Senior Help Line leads to services that keep thousands in their homes


Everyone comes to a point in their lives where they need some help. People suffer an injury, or get old enough that it's hard to take care of things as simple as cooking.

It costs about $2,000 a year in Maricopa County to help people with meals, housekeeping, respite for caregivers or any number of other needs. It is at least $50,000 to put someone in a nursing facility. It can also be healthier to keep people in their homes.

Every morning, the people at Tempe Community Action Agency prepare about 200 meals. They load them in cars with volunteers and staff, and deliver them to people like Mary Hartley.

“You can't find anything any better,” Hartley said.

And Tamara Neveleff, who is wheelchair bound.

“I think it's a wonderful program for people such as myself, who can't get to the kitchen or stand up and cook for themselves,” Neveleff said.

Daily meals are just one of the services provided by nonprofit organizations around the Phoenix metro area. The services often start with a call to the Senior Help Line (602-264-4357) at the Area Agency on Aging.

“Anybody can call,” said Alfredo Gonzalez, a Help Line supervisor. “Things like make their own food or do their own housekeeping, bathe themselves even.”

The Help Line finds all sorts of services for people, answering about 38,000 calls a year.

“What is something that's really difficult to get for somebody?” I asked.

“Financial assistance,” Gonzalez responded.

Financial assistance accounts are always stretched thin, said senior VP of the agency, Jim Knaut. But every service is designed to help people stay in their homes.

“These are people who basically have nobody else in their life,” Knaut said, describing many of the clients. “They are dependent on assistance to maintain their independence.”

Kathy Wilson is a case manager with Maricopa County. The day we met her, she was visiting Bernice and Elmer Piirto in Phoenix.

“You don't have cellphones, do you?” she asked the Piirtos during her normal round of questioning.

Married 68 years, the Piirtos are all about staying in their own home despite declining health.

“Why not go to a nursing home at your age?” I asked.

“No,” said Elmer Piirto, definitively. “No way.”

The Piirtos' children help them clean and get to the doctor, but cooking has become a struggle because they can't stand for long periods of time.

“I mean, you think you are going to be able to cook for yourself forever,” I said.

“I know,” Bernice Piirto said. “Forever. It's really hard to accept it at first.”

The Piirtos enjoy those meals that come to their home daily. And they enjoy their independence.

Wilson's job is to get people all types of help. And that help is just one phone call away.

“They've worked hard all their lives,” Wilson said. “And now, they just want to stay in their own homes and enjoy the rest of their lives.”

The Senior Help Line is manned 24 hours a day, and the help doesn't have to be for yourself. It can be for a parent or neighbor.

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